OPINION: AUSTRALIANS fundamentally respect farmers and agriculture is part of our identity as a nation - we are proud of the fact that we can feed ourselves and export food.
When disaster strikes Australians have been generous and generally approve of government support for farmers.
The focus on support from successive governments has often been on what happens when the industry is struggling - the recent release of the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper echoes this, with a large chapter devoted to how we address drought.
The White Paper focus on a fairer go for farmers, future infrastructure needs, approaches to drought and risk management, new farming techniques and accessing premium markets are all important for setting the foundation for an agricultural industry moving forward – but they are stuck in an old framework.
Competitiveness of the sector will be dependent on how strongly we respond to the challenges of a changing climate.
The Bureau of Meteorology reported 2013 as the hottest year on record and high temperatures have been rolling in consistently since.
In 2014, our third hottest year was recorded. This October, rainfall was below average for most of Australia and Tasmanian farmers are dealing with the driest spring on record.
In November, the deadliest bushfires recorded in Western Australia burnt through more than 200,000 hectares of prime agricultural country, claiming four lives.
According to the Climate Council, we are at risk of under-preparedness as climate change kicks in, increasing the number of fires each season.
With all of this in mind, to dedicate a mere two thirds of a page to climate change in the 128-page White Paper is not only out of touch, it’s irresponsible.
Farmers will know this more than most: climate change is already being factored into decision making.
This is an issue that affects farmers across the country and should have been critical to how we transform agriculture into the future.
We know climate trends will change agricultural regions, so we need a response that will transform agriculture.
This is not about doom and gloom.
Not all reports are ignoring the reality of what is happening.
Recently the CSIRO released a report that showed we can encourage sustainability, use the environment to our advantage and move towards an even greener agricultural industry whilst also making economic gains.
The report said: "We find Australia can continue to enjoy strong trend growth in national income, while reducing pressures on natural resources and ecosystems. New energy markets for carbon sequestration, energy feed stocks and nature conservation have the potential to diversify and increase on-farm incomes. Markets that support carbon sequestration could benefit farmers and rural communities… increasing farm incomes by more than 30 per cent and national income (GNI) by up to 3pc above existing trends. With productivity improvements in line with long-term trends, Australian agricultural output volumes are projected to rise by at least 50pc by 2050 – even in scenarios where bioenergy and plantings for carbon sequestration increase."
But the report doesn’t stop with just our food.
It also acknowledges the importance of water and concedes that with the appropriate settings and technology, increased water demand need not increase pressure on water limited catchments.
With the acknowledgement that water is integral to agriculture, the report says: "Payments for carbon sequestration could be harnessed to reward rural land owners for restoring ecosystems, increasing native habitat by 17pc and decreasing extinction risks by 10pc, without large additional government outlays."
Now is the time to invest in the knowledge and innovation we need to sustain agricultural productivity, regional jobs and food security long into the future.
We need to be ambitious and we need to invest.
The Australian Greens have developed a roadmap on how we will stand up for healthy, sustainable and secure food.
We recognise the need to keep farmers on the land, the need to continue to put good food on the table, and the need to protect our land and water.
Farmers are not only essential for food and fibre production, but also to managing and restoring our natural resources and adapting to changes in the climate.
We can ensure that every Australian has access to nutritious and affordable food at all times and at the same time produce what we can for the world.
We should all acknowledge that climate change will have a fundamental impact on agriculture - we cannot go on as business as usual.
We need to stop setting frameworks that ignore the elephant in the room - it is clear from the CSIRO report that we will miss opportunities if we don’t.